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PRO-GRIFFIN CAMPAIGN FLIERS SANK LOW IN LOVEJOY

There were some low blows struck in the 1997 primary campaign.

But none was lower than the racial issue created in the contests for the Democratic nominations for mayor of Buffalo and South District Council member.

The race card was played by apparent supporters of former Mayor Jimmy Griffin and also by the candidate he backed for South District Council member, Dennis Manley.

It worked for Manley, who beat incumbent Bonnie Kane Lockwood, but not for Griffin. He finished last in the three-way Democratic primary for mayor behind the winner, incumbent Anthony Masiello, and Council President Jim Pitts.

Shortly before the Sept. 9 primary election, a "Jim Griffin for Mayor" flier was distributed in the Lovejoy District noting that the Masiello administration was demolishing properties on Goodyear, Woltz, Bissell and Moselle streets, all in mainly non-white neighborhoods.

"Where will all those displaced go?" asked the flier. "St. John Kanty parish? Precious Blood area? St. Rita's parish? (SS.) Peter and Paul? St. Casimir area? St. Bernard's?"

The flier answered, "Yes, to all of the above."

The pro-Griffin flier also claimed Masiello planned to move occupants of the 300 apartments to be demolished in the predominantly black Commodore Perry Housing Project into the mostly white parishes mentioned in the campaign literature.

"This is Masiello's plan for your neighborhood. Is this what you want?" asked the flier.

Manley circulated his own flier, which said Masiello and Council Member Lockwood "support a program that could move the Perry projects to the Arbour Lane apartments" in South Buffalo.

Rumors circulated that the privately owned Arbour Lane complex would be purchased by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority to house tenants to be displaced at the Commodore Perry project.

Mayor Masiello denied the rumors, as did the Housing Authority and Council Member Lockwood.

Moreover, a spokesman for the owners of Arbour Lane said they had "no desire" to sell the apartment complex to the Housing Authority.

Yet, the rumors that the authority would acquire Arbour Lane and fill it with minorities from the Commodore Perry projects spread like a brush fire throughout South Buffalo.

The Griffin and Manley fliers exacerbated the racial issue by asserting that displaced tenants from Commodore Perry would be given free federal rent vouchers that could be used in any area of the city.

The truth -- the city had no plans to buy the Arbour Lane complex -- never caught up with the rumors.

It was a major factor in the defeat of Council Member Lockwood, an able and hard-working lawmaker who lost by fewer than 300 votes.

Granted, Lockwood had the burden of defending the unpopular garbage-user fee for which she voted. But it was the racial issue that cost her the primary election, in the view of most political observers.

Sadly, a clergyman closely linked to the Griffin campaign never spoke out against the racial bigotry inherent in the fliers. Nor did his superiors.

Incredibly, Griffin, in some post-primary comments in which he professed his concern for the poor, invoked the name of the late Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa would have found the fliers offensive. She devoted her life to helping the poor, without regard to race, creed or color.

The political season in Erie County produced a number of other events, ranging from the unusual to the outrageous.

They included:

Council President Pitts' complaint that some of the blacks who declined to support him in the primary were "Uncle Toms" who had "sold out the community for a few pieces of silver."

His post-primary remarks had a decidedly sour-grapes ring. Even the irascible Griffin proved to be a more gracious loser than Pitts.

The public admission by William Buyers, head of the Mayor's Impact Team, that he had violated the state Election Law by signing primary petitions for a county legislative candidate eight different times.

The candidate, William Dill, lost to incumbent Albert DeBenedetti in the 6th District in Buffalo.

Buyers said he signed more than the one time allowed by law "so people know I'm supporting Bill Dill."

The new position of director of public affairs created by the cash-strapped Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority for Harry Spector, a longtime Republican political operative. The salary range tops out at more than $90,000 a year.

Not bad, considering the mayor of Buffalo earns $79,000 a year.

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